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Institute for Public Service Reporting – Memphis


Recording police interrogations is ‘something that should happen’

Much of the South remains solid in its resistance to recording custodial police interrogations.

Bucking a nationwide movement, nine of 13 Southern states have no state law or court edict requiring police to video or audio record interrogations, according to recent studies. That includes Tennessee and six of eight states it borders. Of those eight, only Missouri and North Carolina require recording interviews of murder suspects.

“To me, it’s something that should happen,’’ said Michael Kaiser, a defense attorney in Little Rock, where the Arkansas Supreme Court passed a rule in 2012 recommending but not mandating recording.

Inspired by the phenomenon of overturned convictions in the age of DNA, authorities in 22 states have approved mandates since 2003 requiring the recording of certain interrogations as a safeguard against wrongful imprisonment. States that mandate recording vary widely in imposing penalties for noncompliance.

Alaska, Indiana and Texas require unrecorded confessions to be excluded from evidence, according to a 2017 study by researchers from Washington State University and West Texas A&M University. Other states leave it to a judge to determine if an unrecorded statement was given voluntarily and is reliable, while others require that juries receive special instructions on how to weigh unrecorded confessions. Still others impose monetary penalties.

Many states also allow “good faith’’ exceptions to recording requirements in cases where recording equipment malfunctions or equipment is unavailable.

Still, even video isn’t perfect. Experts warn against “camera bias.’’ If the camera is fixed only on the defendant, a jury is more likely to believe he or she is guilty, studies show. That’s why recording advocates recommend video that show both the interrogator and the suspect.

“Whoever they’re looking at, they’re going to hold it against most,’’ Kaiser said. “Whoever they’re seeing they immediately have a bias if they’re not seeing the other person.’’

This story first appeared at under exclusive use agreement with The Institute. Photos reprinted with permission of The Daily Memphian.

Written By

Marc Perrusquia is the director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis, where graduate students learn investigative and explanatory journalism skills working alongside professionals. He has won numerous state and national awards for government watchdog, social justice and political reporting.

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